Braille Monitor                  August/September 2021

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The Transformative Power of the 2021 Convention Resolutions

by Sharon Maneki

Sharon ManekiFrom the Editor: The convention is a wonderful experience for almost everyone who participates in it, but that participation can be real work. No one knows this better than our chair of the Resolutions Committee, but every year she seeks out people wanting to help shape Federation policy, works with them to get their thoughts into a form that will pass muster as a resolution, oversees the deliberations of the committee, presides over the reading of the resolutions to the convention, and then writes an article giving us both the 30,000 foot view and the specifics of each resolution. Here is her offering that summarizes what we did in passing resolutions in 2021:

In the Federation we are fond of saying that we transform dreams into reality. The thousands of speeches and articles written by our members attest to the truth of this mantra. Many members also view the convention as a time of transformation. The theme of the convention was Stronger Together: Transforming and Unifying Our Future. With the exception of general session IV, the business session, all of the general sessions had several items with some form of the word transform in the title. For instance, in general session III, six of the eight agenda items use some form of the word in the title. One example was the title of Randi Strunk's presentation "The Strength of a Champion: Transforming Federation Spirit into Personal Progress." It is most appropriate to think about the transformative power of our resolutions.

Any member of the Federation may submit a resolution for consideration by the National Federation of the Blind Resolutions Committee. The National Board of Directors decided to put up the resolutions on the NFB website before the committee meeting on July 7. Consequently, the deadline for submitting resolutions was moved to thirty days before the committee meeting instead of the two weeks that had for some time been our tradition. These changes enhanced the resolutions process by increasing transparency and by giving the membership more time to study the issues and lobby the committee. I was honored to chair the committee and was ably assisted by Patricia Miller, who has been part of our national staff for thirty-five years.

The Resolutions Committee considered eighteen resolutions and sent sixteen of them to the convention for further consideration. Resolution 2021-18, concerning remote voting at NFB virtual and in-person conventions, was withdrawn by the author, Aaron Espinosa from California. Raul Gallegos, the newly elected president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, wanted the opportunity to work directly with the International Guide Dog Federation, so his resolution was also withdrawn. Some form of Resolution 2021-12, concerning the inadequacies of the International Guide Dog Federation Standards, may be resurrected for consideration at a future convention.

On July 10, at session IV of the convention, the membership voted to pass all sixteen resolutions. Having a virtual convention did not dampen the spirit of debate. At least six resolutions were fully debated by the membership. Registered Federationists used our telephone voting system to vote for or against each resolution. The convention passed eight resolutions that may transform the lives of individual blind people, three resolutions that may transform the accessibility of websites and software, and five resolutions that may transform government regulations and programs. Let us examine the transformative power of these resolutions.

Transforming the Lives of Individuals

In his article "Changing the World One Ballot at a Time" that appeared in The Hill on April 16, 2021, President Riccobono stated: "In his 1988 children's novel Matilda, celebrated author Roald Dahl penned the line 'Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.' When applied to voting, this sentiment becomes doubly relevant. To have the power to change the world, we must first have the power to make our voices heard through a ballot." To make our voices heard, the convention passed two resolutions about voting that will transform the voting experience for blind voters. Lou Ann Blake, the director of research at the Jernigan Institute, who spends a great deal of her time studying the elections process throughout the country, proposed Resolution 2021-02. In it we demand that state and local governments eliminate barriers that make it difficult for blind and disabled voters to exercise their right to vote. Such barriers include requiring medical documentation of a disability and denying access to voters with disabilities by limiting the number or location of early voting or election-day polling places.

In Resolution 2021-09, "this organization demand that all United States jurisdictions provide accessible electronic ballot delivery and return for all federal, state, and local elections starting with the 2022 election cycle." Marcus Soulsby, a longtime Federationist who is the newly elected president of the NFB of West Virginia, sponsored this resolution. Marcus explained that West Virginia has both electronic ballot delivery and return, which is important since more people are choosing to vote by mail. Electronic ballot delivery and return enables blind voters to cast their ballot privately and independently, thus guaranteeing that their ballot remains secret.

Think about how much the lives of individual blind people may be transformed when Resolution 2021-01 is fully implemented. This resolution states "home-use medical devices are becoming more prevalent and less accessible to blind Americans." We urge "the United States Congress swiftly to consider and pass the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act, thereby ensuring and protecting the independence, safety, and health of blind Americans." Jennifer Bazer, the newly elected president of the South Carolina affiliate, who also directs youth transition programs, introduced this resolution.

Ruth Sager, president of both the national Seniors Division and the NFB of Maryland Seniors Division, has a great deal of knowledge about the frustration that newly blind people experience because they do not know about the NFB or how they can learn the alternative techniques of blindness. To solve this problem, Ruth sponsored Resolution 2021-08. In it we urge the governing bodies of various medical professional organizations and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to work with us "to ensure that medical professionals know that they have an obligation to inform their patients about adjustment to blindness resources and the benefits of the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind."

Vernon Humphrey and Justin Salisbury proposed two resolutions that will have a transformative effect on blind veterans by exposing them to the influence of positive blind role models. Master Sergeant Humphrey, United States Army Retired, is the president of the National Association of Blind Veterans and an active member of the NFB of Georgia. Justin Salisbury is the first vice president of the NFB of Vermont, second vice president of the National Association of Blind Students, and won a national scholarship in 2011. In Resolution 2021-03, "this organization urge the United States military to amend its policies to allow blind people to enlist in military service and to provide more opportunities for service members who become blind to remain on active duty."

Currently, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs hires only rehabilitation personnel who have been certified by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP). Obtaining orientation and mobility certification from ACVREP continues to be problematic for blind applicants, thus marginalizing blind people. The National Blindness Professional Certification Board, by contrast, treats blind and sighted applicants equally. In Resolution 2021-13, "this organization strongly urge the Department of Veterans Affairs immediately to amend its human resource policies to accept certifications issued by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board."

The convention passed two resolutions that will enhance a blind person's ability to travel independently and safely. Resolution 2021-06 will benefit blind people who travel using a guide dog. The resolution reads in part: "this organization condemn and deplore the seizure of any guide dog by any guide dog training program without proper due process." The resolution provides various examples of the meaning of due process such as what constitutes a real appeal. Raul Gallegos, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, and Mike Hingson sponsored this resolution. Michael is a longtime Federationist who attended his first convention in 1973.

Deborah Brown, who is the first vice president of the NFB of Maryland and president of its Sligo Creek Chapter, proposed Resolution 2021-15. Because of the increasing use of bicycle lanes, floating bus stops, and shared cycle track stops, challenges for pedestrians abound. Frequently, pedestrians can only reach a floating bus stop or shared cycle track stop by crossing in the middle of the block, where there are no traffic lights or crosswalk markings. Blind pedestrians face an additional danger because bicycles, electric low-speed scooters, and other micromobility devices are silent. In this resolution, we urge county governments and local municipalities to create pedestrian crossing zones and to pass laws mandating that pedestrians in these crosswalks always have the right of way.

Transforming the Accessibility Landscape

For decades the National Federation of the Blind has been trying to eliminate access barriers created by information and communication technology. The convention passed three resolutions that send important messages to software companies and website developers that will transform the accessibility landscape. Longtime Federationist currently active in the Washington state affiliate and technology expert Jamal Mazrui proposed Resolution 2021-14. "Despite existing standards and solutions, blind people continue to encounter unnecessary barriers to full participation in conferences, including events within the field of accessibility …This organization strongly urge that conferences in all fields make their digital content and procedures nonvisually accessible to both attendees and presenters." We also call upon conferences in the field of accessibility in particular to demonstrate leadership by modeling and promoting best practices in digital accessibility.

The convention passed two resolutions that deal with the complicated subject of using overlays to make websites accessible to the blind. The first resolution describes overlay problems in general, while the second resolution concerns a particular overlay company. Longtime Federationist Curtis Chong, who currently serves as the treasurer of the NFB in Computer Science Division and treasurer of the Aurora Chapter of the NFB of Colorado, sponsored Resolution 2021-04. The author laments that "the blind continue to fall behind as the number of websites created and deployed far outpaces the number of websites which we can confidently declare to be useable and accessible, and thus, any solution which gives the blind true nonvisual access is welcome." Overlays must be developed and implemented in ways that truly improve access to websites. The resolution also contains several specific recommendations for overlay companies to follow to ensure this accessibility. This organization also "insists that current and potential overlay customers recognize that complete and long-lasting accessibility requires more than a one-time installation of code; that accessibility should be a priority throughout the entire lifecycle of any product from design to full implementation."

Longtime Federationists Anil Lewis, J.J. Meddaugh, and Tai Tomasi sponsored Resolution 2021-17. Anil Lewis, executive director of blindness initiatives at the Jernigan Institute, needs no introduction to Monitor readers. J.J. Meddaugh is the owner of the innovative company ATT Guys and is a leader in the Michigan affiliate. Tai Tomasi currently serves on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of the NFB and won national scholarships in 2000 and in 2004. accessiBe is a company that develops a website overlay product. In Resolution 2021-17, "this organization condemn and deplore accessiBe's disrespectful and misleading marketing and business practices."

Transforming Government Programs

As Monitor readers know, the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled and its network libraries depend on the United States Postal Service to distribute its materials and equipment needed to listen to or read books and magazines. In Resolution 2021-05, "this organization condemn and deplore the failure of the United States Postal Service to deliver materials and equipment to and from library patrons in a timely manner …This organization also strongly urge the United States Congress to require the United States Postal Service to report to the Congress on steps that the United States Postal Service intends to take to improve timely delivery of library materials and equipment to ensure that these items are truly treated as First-Class Mail." Dezman Jackson, the second vice president of the NFB of Maryland and chairman of its membership committee won a national scholarship in 2015, and it was he who sponsored this resolution.

The convention passed two resolutions that will increase employment opportunities when we transform these government programs. Maura Loberg, who is a sophomore in college and president of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students, introduced Resolution 2021-07 concerning the AbilityOne Program. This is a program in which "more than five hundred nonprofit agencies participate …to employ individuals with disabilities through federal product and service contracts." Unfortunately, many of these nonprofits deliberately screen out applicants who require screen-reader technology. "This organization hereby condemn and deplore all AbilityOne-approved nonprofits with discriminatory employment practices that deny reasonable accommodations and screen out applications who use screen reader software."

For years the National Federation of the Blind has engaged in litigation with many agencies of the federal government for non-compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 requires "that technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities, including federal employees and the general public." In Resolution 2021-11, "this organization call on the United States Congress to convene a Section 508 oversight hearing to examine and evaluate failures of federal agencies to comply with Section 508." Joe Orozco, who has been a federal employee for the past nine years and is involved in the leadership development program of the Virginia affiliate, introduced this resolution.

Albert Elia, who is a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and first vice president of the Seattle Chapter of the NFB of Washington, sponsored Resolution 2021-10. On January 11, 2021, the United States Department of Transportation enacted Air Carrier Access Act regulations on the transportation of service animals. Because of these regulations, blind travelers who use guide dogs face many discriminatory and unnecessary obstacles. For example, airline personnel who believe a service animal is too large to fit in a traveler's personal floor space can order the traveler to either purchase an additional seat for the service animal, allow the service animal to be transported in the cargo hold, or wait for another flight with more room. This is an artificial problem because guide dogs are trained to fit into small spaces. In the resolution, "this organization urge the Secretary of Transportation to review and amend the Department of Transportation Air Carrier Access Act regulations to ensure that guide dog users do not continue to experience discrimination."

The president of the National Association of Blind Veterans, Master Sergeant Vernon Humphrey, U.S. Army Retired, introduced Resolution 2021-16, the last resolution that I will discuss in this article. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs uses inaccessible kiosks in its medical facilities and outpatient clinics to input various types of personal information. This practice is not only an act of discrimination against blind veterans, but it also limits the privacy and independence of people who sacrificed so much for their country. The Department of Veterans Affairs has no excuse for this practice because accessible technology for kiosks already exists. In Resolution 2021-16, "this organization demand that the Department of Veterans Affairs purchase and use only kiosks that offer full and equal access for the blind."

As you can see, the National Federation of the Blind has the power to transform the lives of individuals, transform the accessibility landscape, and transform government programs and practices. This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the 2021 Convention. The complete text of each resolution is reprinted below. Readers should analyze the text of each resolution fully to understand our policies on these subjects. These resolutions will affect our activities for the coming year and beyond. Let us use our resolutions to continue to transform dreams into reality.

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